Bare brick walls & cheese plants (child mental health)

This is a clip from a book I’m writing about a dysfunctional abusive family in the 1970s and child mental health services at that time.

Thankfully now it’s much better.

He sat at a huge oak desk
The wall behind him was bare brick
A modern clinic for 1975..
A cheese less cheese plant as wide as it was tall stood like a gangly guard in the corner
Leaves reaching out like huge ten fingered alien hands
A photograph of the man at the desk with a woman and two children my age smiling at the camera
But in the photograph he wasn’t wearing a suit like he wears when I see him sitting at the desk. He looks different in the photo. Perhaps it’s his twin brother?
I’m holding onto the sides of the blue plastic chair
Swinging my legs.
They don’t touch the ground.
The only sound is the papers he is holding as he reads silently reminding himself of my last appointment.
I count.
The leaves on the cheese plant guard.
Leaning to my left to check around the back.
Fourty two I whisper.
He looks at me over his gold glasses smiles.
“Forty two? It’s nice to hear you speak.” He says
I feel my face flush.
Nod my head
“Leaves I say on your plant”
Do you like counting?
I nod
‘Inside my head’
I count I sing sometimes I shout but I don’t tell him that.
So he says
“How’s things been at home this week.?”
I’m listening to the breathing behind me and the faint waft of cigarette smoke
I can’t see him but I know he’s there.
His presence is palpable.
He always sits in that chair by the door
Answer the doctor he says in his gruff voice ..
I look at the photograph. On the desk.
His eyes look kind
I look back at him holding his pen and I begin to count the bricks on the wall
Shit I think as I count
Things at home are shit always .
21, 22, 23.
Talk to the Dr the voice behind me says from the chair
Tell the truth .”
I swing my legs..
41,42,43..
She’s shy says the voice again.
Not ten mins before outside in the rain the voice had reminded me to keep my mouth shut.
Mimed turning a key and throwing it away.
“If you tell them ANYTHING the will put me in jail. You will go in a children’s home and you won’t see your mammy again. ”
I looked at the doctor smiled and carried on counting
77,78,79.
Until eventually it was time to go home to my Mam.

All the colours of a rainbow.

I cannot remember my hair’s natural colour. Some non descript brown.

My sister eighteen years older than I and a want to be hairdresser cut it permed it platted back combed generally practicing on me and her three girls.

I remember my dad cutting it when I was at junior school with Mam’s pinking shears there is a horendous school photo taken the day after fringe like a ski slope and one pony tail longer than the other. I looked a right state.

The day after my sister came over and cut it short it did look better but I was heart broken I couldn’t tie it up anymore.

That was it I was like her hairdressing dummy she cut it regularly after that perms became fashionable do she practiced that too.

I should say she wasn’t at anytime at college. Then when I was thirteen she asked if I wanted it dyed? Before I knew it my head was over the kitchen sink plastic shower stuck onto the taps Luke warm water dripping down my front.

Then sitting with itchy burning mixture on my head fidgiting and complaining keep still she scalded it’s bleach it’s only been on for ten minutes!

BLEACH!

she babbled how it had to be bleached first before it could be dyed red.

Mam is going to kill me wailed she laughed and pushed my head back over the sink.

Back onto the hard kitchen chair and slopped red coloured dye onto my sore head.

Wrapped it in a kwik save carrier bag and started to warm it with a hair dryer holding dryer with one hand and a fag in the other.

Shouting all the while at the kids running in and out the kitchen and the dog for chasing the cat.

If there is a Hairdressing for dummies manual she hadn’t read it but we we’re in the 1970s.

She washed it off and gave me a cracked bathroom mirror to hold. You know the ones that swivel and make everything look 12 times bigger?

Jesus Mary and Joseph I heard myself say in a whisper.

“I’m dead”

Red it was luminous bright pink.

To make things worse I was wearing orange t shirt.

My sister screwed up her eyes.

It’s not too bad.

She said brushing it as she dryed it.

“Wash it out” I begged.

“Er it’s permanent”

I could feel my heart beating in my head I grabbed my coat as her husband walked in.

“Fucking hell lizard” he laughed “your Mam’s gonna kill you. ”

I banged the door behind me the glass rattled in the door.

I walked across the estate home thinking of a way to get out of my latest mess but apart from leaving home, buying a hat and refusing to remove it the fact was I was dead!

I sneaked in the back door and ran upstairs.

Just as the bathroom door opened and mam stood there in her yellow dressing gown.

We stood on opposite sides of the landing clashing and staring.

What the bloody hells fire have you done she gasped?

It wasn’t me it was my sister I stammered I always stammered when I was nervous which was most of the time.

Get in that bloody bathroom and wash it out!

But it won’t wash out I tried to explain as she clipped me around my head screaming at me and launching a bottle of head and shoulders.

“but Mam” I wailed.

“don’t come down until it’s out!”

Needless to say I was up there awhile

It didn’t come out if anything it seemed to get brighter.

I looked like a match stick!

I was suspended from school and grounded.

But after a week I got to like it.

It was different. Definitely different.

So there it started accidentally my life long love affair with dying my hair.

It’s been punk, red, blue, green, black, blonde purple but never dull!

I’m fifty three now and last week I dyed it brown.

I looked in the mirror and reminded myself of my sister years ago unsure if I liked it I thought I’d leave it for a week or two.

Until my grand daughter arrived.

“Nan” she shreeked what’s happening with your hair?”

You don’t look like you Nan it’s too ….. Normal!

She really didn’t like it and to be fair neither did I.

So few hours later it’s bright pillar box red .

That’s better she said I couldn’t have gone out with you with brown hair.

So I guess why change the habit of a life time.

Rebel grand mother it is.